Enkovukeni, a community discovered

2016-09-14 15:59
A mother and child cross hippo infested waters. (Kaveel Singh, News24)

A mother and child cross hippo infested waters. (Kaveel Singh, News24)

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Kosi Bay – The men and women of Enkovukeni, an island community in the farthest reaches of the Zulu kingdom, have braved the crocodile and hippo-infested waters that surround their home for centuries.

The experiences of both the young and old are a throwback to a time before modern technology with the community having been virtually shut off from society and medical care until now.

With a light cast on their plight, the provincial government handed over a boat which will change the lives of all in the fishing community.

The journey to Enkovukeni in KwaZulu-Natal takes five hours from Durban; two-and-a-half hours if travelling from Hluhluwe - plus another 30 minutes travelling in an off-road vehicle for both journeys.

The community of around 100 has lived on the island belt they call home for two centuries, according to Lindani Ngubane, a member of the Masifundise Development Trust – an organisation that helps fight for the rights of local fisherman.

"We have been here for maybe 200 years. My father and his father both lived on that island. They were catching fish and selling it here before anyone even knew this place existed," Ngubane said.

Part of their lives for hundreds of years

The community has travelled by foot to and from their island home through hippo-infested waters, a challenge that has plagued them for many years. The media highlighted their plight during the 2016 local government elections and now government organisations have offered assistance in the form of a petrol-powered boat.

According to locals, who were apprehensive about speaking to the media, the river has provided for them and been part of their lives for hundreds of years.

"Our fish kraals are handmade. This is what we have always done. And we won't do it anywhere else but here. We live off this river and it is what we choose. What we want is help to cross safely. It is not easy for us," a young man said.

Many were proud of their homeland, claiming that the graves of the ancestors of the Ngubane, Mthembu and Tembe clans on their land date back more than 500 years.

A local Lovia Ngubane said he would never leave his island home.

Furious at the lack of infrastructure in Enkovukeni, one middle-aged fisherman explained how an ailing community member died while being carried to hospital during an emergency.

"It was very difficult because the people were carrying him and he died while they were holding him above the water. Everyone had to keep taking him because there was nothing else we could do. The families here are not having an easy life. We need help."

Speaking to News24, 78-year-old Armon Ngubane said he faced many challenges growing up without a safe way to cross the river, particularly at night.

"This is a wonderful place and I will always call it home. But at night we have many hippos here. You cannot cross because it is their water at night. They will attack you with their big tusks and kill you. How can we still be living this way? I want my family to live better than we did."

One local told News24, "When someone is sick, we have to carry them above the water to get to a clinic. The water can come up to your chest sometimes. There are so many animals and anything can happen. It is a hard life."

On Friday the Department of Transport, together with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa), handed over one of three boats to the community. Community members were trained by Samsa as skippers.

‘Our home to stay’

During an event held to mark the handover a critical Lindani Ngubane was vocal in sharing with those present the challenges locals faced. He claimed Isimangaliso Wetland Park and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife – both nature preservation organisations – had little regard for the locals.

"When Isimangaliso first came here they forcibly removed people. They did not consult us. Our fathers were living here and catching lots of small fish to eat or sell.

"We have been here for over two centuries. They came here around the 90s and are saying they want to protect nature. We are part of nature here."

Ngubane claimed locals had been shot because they fished in the marine protected area.

"They are catching fish and getting shot. We have fished here for so many years and now these people want to hurt us for it. If they think we will destroy nature, why don't they come educate people? Why must they shoot us?"

Cost of fuelling boats

According to Ngubane, the boat project was a "good start". He, however, raised many concerns about maintenance of the boats.

"It will help the people living on the other side of the river. But we are awaiting government to tell us about fuelling. We are looking for a permanent structure like a bridge. We cannot reject the boat, but there are still lots of questions around this."

Another local, Isaac Mtshali, 32, who has lived in Enkovukeni all his life, concurred.

"The boats run on fuel and we will have to fuel it on our own. And many of us are not working. We are wondering how that will work.

"What we want is a bridge and water and electricity. The boat will help, but we need more than that."

Commercial opportunity

Speaking to the media, Deputy Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga put a positive spin on the situation at the handover event on Friday.

"We think this is a community that has potential. This lake has fish. They can sell it. We need to bring other departments here to see how we can help further."

Chikunga said President Jacob Zuma was aware of the plight of the community and there were talks of the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee aimed at assisting the people of Enkovukeni further.

"The president indicated he is more than willing to visit the area. But we've got to do the work here ourselves."

Chikunga noted the challenges faced by the community regarding electricity and running water, saying the proposed inter-ministerial committee could help solve them.

When asked about the community's allegations concerning Isimangaliso and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Chikunga said the deputy minister of environmental affairs "is aware of the matter".

"But these are not matters within the Department of Transport. This is why an inter-ministerial approach will assist in solving issues in this area.  No one department can solve the amount of challenges raised by this community.

"This project is going to work. We are not going to fail this community. We are going to try to assist. I will come back here," she added.

Local trust to fund project

When News24 asked for exact numbers on the project, Acting CEO for Samsa Tilayi Sobantu said: "We have got a community trust we said we will work with and it is the same trust we will use to employ local skippers".

He said Samsa has spoken to the local municipality and "has started an initiative that gets us to the expanded public works department".

"There are [also] royalties that they [locals] get from the tourism industry. Our purpose is to see who else can tap into the trust to further assist."

He said that while there was enough money in the trust "to get going" there would be a need for more partners to fund the project.

"We do have enough money in the trust. There is going to be a need for scale going forward. That is why we need more partners going forward."

A 'wonderful boat'

Despite the concerns listed by some community members, News24 did come across one local who was ecstatic about the boat initiative.

"The boat is wonderful. It is going to help us for our children to travel. Many are saying bring a bridge, but that will take long. At least we have this now. I am very happy. I am thankful to the government. We are happy they are here," said Titus Mthembu.

Mthembu said he was happy that the community was finally being acknowledged by the outside world.

"We just want people to know we are here and we want help. We are happy in our home and we are happy people are seeing us now," he said.


Read more on:    ezemvelo  |  durban

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